Last week, the Atlanta Braves traveled to Washington D.C. for a series against their division foe, the Washington Nationals. As early as when the 2013 schedules were released, I had already pegged that series to be one with serious playoff implications.
However, the continued sub-par play by the Nationals had left them so far behind the Braves that by that point of the season, steam in D.C. had run out, and the ballpark sounded as if fans had already begun to focus on their beloved Washington Redskins.
Then something interesting happened. After Bryce Harper homered homered off him in the third inning, Julio Teheran plunked Harper on the first pitch, to which he reacted by aggressively walking up the baseline while screaming a few choice words toward the mound. Benches cleared, bullpens cleared, but nothing happened.
So tempers flared and words were said — no big deal right? Well, 10 days later, the two met in Atlanta, and things almost got out of hand again.
In the fourth inning, left-hander Alex Wood stood up against Harper and dealt him a hanging curve way inside that hit him in the back. It wasn’t on purpose, it was a curveball and it was a bad pitch, no doubt about it. Harper took his base without much incident, but it was noted that he had now been hit twice in the last three contests between these two clubs.
Then in the eighth inning, with two outs and a man on second, left-handed reliever Luis Avilan put a 91 mph pitch into the back of Harper’s left arm. Given the circumstances, that batter is charging the mound nine times out of 10, but both pitches were obvious mistakes. The first one was a breaking ball, and Avilan’s pitch was essentially behind Harper. Had his left arm not been hanging back, the ball would have simply flew by.
Benches didn’t clear and Harper actually reacted more casually than he had on Aug. 6, though he didn’t look pleased whatsoever as Freddie Freeman welcomed him to first base.
So all in all, what happened? Well, Harper is wearing a few fresh bruises, but I wouldn’t expect much else, yet. This division is so far out of reach for the Nats that any overreaction by Washington just shows weakness, but it does build upon the intensifying rivalry in the NL East.
Harper is going to be in D.C. for a while, and these two teams are going to likely be battling it out for the division over the next few years. Like the once-fiery rivalry between the New York Mets and Braves, it seems things will only get more interesting in the years to come between Washington and Atlanta.